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The Small Side of Ahimsa
Ending the World's Pain Begins in Your Own Home

A discussion of Yoga's ethics usually begins with Ahimsa, the Yama of non-violence. Although there are nine other Yamas (disciplines) and Niyamas (observances), non-violence seems to sum up all of Yoga's philosophy - and the spirit of India, its country of origin - particularly well. After all, aren't most yogis vegetarians who refuse to harm animals, and wasn't the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi a beacon of non-violence for the twentieth century? The problem with looking at Ahimsa in this sweeping, all-encompassing manner is that it makes it hard to adopt as a personal credo. Most of us would have a hard time giving up meat, if we even wanted to, and even fewer of us aspire to becoming a Ghandi for the new millennium. The truth is that Ahimsa can, and should, be added into your lifestyle in small, subtle doses. You don't have to immediately give up hamburgers or throw yourself into protests for world peace. Most types of revolution or radical change are violent in nature and inherently against the principle of Ahimsa. Change is more likely to be effective if brought about slowly, bit by bit.

(Article continued below.)

We all commit small acts of violence every day. We don't have to eat a steak, beat our children or even step on a bug to do it. Did you have a spat with your significant other? Did you commit an act of passive-aggressive revenge at work? Did you forget to recycle that glass bottle or your junk mail? During your Yoga practice, did you force your body to stretch farther than you knew it should? All these are examples of the types of violence we commit every day without even thinking about it. We carelessly harm each other, the earth, and ourselves in dozens of different ways, mainly because we are not living our lives in compassion and awareness.

Ahimsa comes from the Hindu belief that God - the force that animates the universe - is all-pervasive. The whole world is holy ground, every being is sacred, and not only does this power express itself through everything in the universe, we are all interconnected by this power. Even if your belief is different from the Hindu, you have to admit that little, harmful acts can add up. The fighting between a couple can escalate until it results in divorce. Trash pollutes the earth's air and water, destroying the ecosystem. Being rude to the harassed check-out girl will cause her to leave work angry and curse other drivers on the road, who will in turn take that energy home to their families. All these negative forces can be halted, right now, by just a little bit of consideration and understanding. Practice small acts of Ahimsa every day, and they will add up as surely as those harmful behaviors would have turned into something big and ugly.

Next page >> Making Ahimsa Personal >> Page 1, 2

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